For those who are dying to get back to the theatre but not yet quite ready for high drama, Stewart Pringle’s Trestle might be just the gentle reintroduction you’re looking for. A quietly charming piece about two retirees in the Yorkshire village of Billingham, it follows weekly encounters at the community Temperance Hall between Harry (Timothy Harker), who chairs the local improvement committee, and Denise (Jilly Bond), leader of the Zumba class that takes place immediately afterwards.
It begins with a misunderstanding, which quickly establishes the personalities of the two characters. Harry’s a slightly stuffy pillar of the community, a widower who’s settled quite contentedly into his weekly routine of volunteering and visiting the local garden centre, while Denise has a mischievous, fun-loving streak, and certainly doesn’t believe in going quietly into her twilight years. They’re very different people, but somehow over the weeks they start to become friends – and as more time passes, Harry begins to relax and open up to new experiences, while Denise reveals she might not be quite as happy-go-lucky as she pretends to be.
The trestle of the title is the hall’s trestle table, which must be safely stowed before each Zumba class and put out again for the committee meetings. This means we get to see a lot of it in the frequent scene changes – but against all logic, the furniture rearrangement actually gets less monotonous as the play goes on and we become more invested in the story and the characters’ journey. Director Matthew Parker also ensures we’re never just watching a table and chairs being moved around; the actors are acting throughout, and we learn just as much from the scene changes about what mood they’re in or what might have been going on since last week as we do from listening to their conversations. Meanwhile, in a gorgeous little detail, the choice of music at each pause in the action helps to establish which of the two characters currently has the upper hand in their relationship.
A lot of the charm of Trestle is in the performances of Timothy Harker and Jilly Bond, whose instant chemistry draws us into the story and the increasingly complex relationship between the two characters. Stewart Pringle has created two refreshingly three-dimensional older people, who still have just as much to live for as someone half their age, and the actors are clearly enjoying embodying those characters – not least in the closing scene of Act 1, which I’m not ashamed to say had me grinning from ear to ear like a fool.
Another key character in the play is the community itself – although we never see beyond the hall (recreated in meticulous detail by set designer Simon Nicholas), or meet anyone besides Harry and Denise, Pringle’s evocative writing conjures up a company of other characters waiting just off-stage, each with their own eccentricities and stories to tell. Billingham might be a quiet village, but it’s certainly not a boring one. And maybe as a fan of the Jack I’m biased, but this feels like the right theatre to stage a play that’s just as much about the community as it is about individuals.
As a piece of theatre, Trestle possibly isn’t going to change the world. But after a year of being pigeonholed by age group, and told repeatedly how vulnerable the older generation are, it’s a joy to watch a play in which two older people are having just as much fun, and learning just as much about themselves, as anyone else. Combined with strong writing, direction and performances, this makes for a thoroughly enjoyable (and slightly emotional) evening of entertainment.
Trestle is at the Jack Studio Theatre until 26th June.